The final opportunity for the public to provide the WDNR with feedback about adding Horses and Snowmobiles to the allowed uses in the master plan for the Stower Seven Lakes Trail is Wednesday, June 10th.

Meeting Link: https://polkwi.webex.com
Meeting #: 968 663 581
Password: ESmeeting1
Join by Phone: 1-408-418-9388

Please, speak up for this trail. There are a couple options for you to choose:

  • Submit written comment by June 9th to: polk.recreation@co.polk.wi.us
  • Attend an opportunity to be pre-recorded for up to 3 minutes stating your opinion. See flyer from Polk County (Tues, June 2 9a-3p & Wed, June 3rd, 4-8p)
  • Call in and/or Video Live during the ESC meeting on June 10 at 9:15am.

Due to COVID-19 and to protect the health of residents and employees,
the hearing will be held virtually via WebEx. To join this meeting, please use the links, phone number and password below:

A family enjoying the Stower Seven Lakes Trail.

The 14-mile long Stower Seven Lakes Trail opened in 2009 on a former railroad corridor, and begins in Amery, travels through Deronda, Wanderoos and Nye, almost all the way to St. Croix Falls. It was originally intended for non-motorized use, and funded with money from the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which specifically precludes the use of ATVs, but the question of snowmobiles is less clear.

Despite the non-motorized funding source that was used for planning and construction, almost since the first master plan was adopted in 2004, even before the trail opened, the addition of ATV riders and snowmobilers has been suggested by area ATV/UTV and snowmobile groups.

Click to open a PDF version of this map.

Every 15 years, the WDNR reopens trail and park Master Plans for review and revision. The current draft Master Plan for the Stower Seven Lakes Trail can be read here.

The local snowmobile clubs are putting considerable pressure on the WDNR to allow motorized users during the winter and now horses during the summer on the Stower Seven Lakes Trail. The Friends of the Stower Seven Lakes Trail argues it is the only non-motorized trail they have nearby and there are already a number of ATV and snowmobile trails in Polk County.

Because ARRA funds clearly do not allow ATV/UTV use, that request has been removed, but the Polk County Board is still seeking to include horses during the warmer months and snowmobiles once snow falls. In fact, the updated draft master plan for the Stower trail written by the County still includes that language.

In the last 10 years or so, the Bike Fed has heard from other non-motorized trail users and State Friends groups around the state that ATV and snowmobile groups are seeking access to the trails they have been hiking, skiing and biking on for years. At the state level, the the Wisconsin ATV / UTV Association (WATVA) and the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobile Clubs (AWSC) are very well organized, have about 40,000 members each, and are very active at all opportunities to add open trails for motorized uses.

The world is run by those who show up.

Robert B. Johnson

Last winter, at a public hearing about opening part of Blue Mound State Park to snowmobiles, 60 or 70 people attended and spoke in favor of keeping the trails open only for silent sports. But the AWSC organized school buses and more than 200 of their members attended and spoke in favor of allowing snowmobiles.

The master planning process for the Southwest Savanna Ecological Landscape, which includes the Badger State Trail and the Sugar River State Trail, is still open for comments. During the early public meetings, ATV use has been suggested for both of those trails. On May 27th, the Brodhead Free Press ran a story by Gloria Sutter that mentioned this:

“Dusty Kubly attended the City Council meeting to share information on possible changes to the Sugar River Recreational Trail. The DNR can petition the federal government about changes to a trail every fifteen years. Because of the poor upkeep of the trail and the increased interest in ATVs, the DNR asked for opinions from the municipalities along the trail.”

“They are considering a mixed-use trail that would be large enough to accommodate hikers, bikers and ATVers. Local ATV clubs would then be involved in maintenance. It was emphasized that the process, if started, will
involve many more steps. At this point, the municipalities are simply stating
that they are interested in further investigation. This passed on a 4-3 vote.”

Although the official public comment period is over, additional comments are still being accepted via email to WDNR staff member Savannah Ernzen who was part of the planning committee. You can see visit the planning process webpage here and email Savannah at savannah.ernzen@wisconsin.gov.

If the WDNR hears from more people in favor of adding motorized user groups to trails formerly only open to hiking, biking and skiing, it is no wonder silent sport users are losing ground. Please join your local Friends group, bicycle advocacy group and become a member of the Wisconsin Bike Fed, and speak up when we have our chance to be heard.